Kolavipallam beach

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 Location  Ecosystem Type    Conservation Type    Area(hectare)  Legal status 
 Kozhikode,Kerala  Coastal Species Protection 400  Not Available

Case Study (2009)


Also known as Kotta Kadapuram, Kolavipaalam is the birthplace of Kunhali Marakkar, a famous maritime warrior of Kerala during the rule of the Zamorins (AD 1120–1498). Recently Kolavipaalam has been in the local newspapers for a different reason. The local community here was awarded the P.V. Thampy award in November 2000 for environmental protection through community participation. This community is not only protecting the Olive Ridley turtles that come to nest on the beach but has also undertaken mangrove afforestation in the estuarine area.

The beach is located in Iringal village of Payyoli Gram Panchayat in Quilandi taluka of Kozhikode District. Kolavipaalam beach is situated 46 km north of Kozhikode. The nearest town is Payyoli, which can be reached by private buses plying from Kozhikode. Payyoli also has a railway station. The bus service from Payyoli to Kolavipaalam is irregular. Autorickshaws from Payyoli are available in plenty.

Falling within the coastal eco-region of the state of Kerala, this area shows a typical coastal ecosystem with an estuarine region towards the northern part of the Community Conseved Area (CCA). An 8-km stretch of coastal village commons faces the Arabian Sea on its western side and the Kottapuzha river draining on its eastern side. A 4-km stretch of coastal sandy beach as well as brackish mud flats can be seen in this area. Mangroves grow in the brackishwater estuarine regions and attract a large number of attractive marine birds to this area. Turtles come to nest all along the 8-km stretch of beach starting from Kottapuzha estuary mouth in the north to Payyoli beach located in the south. The mean annual rainfall is 3,500 mm, with the annual temperature range between 20 degrees C and 34 degrees C. A 4-km stretch of coastal sandy beach as well as brackish mudflats can be seen in this area.

The beach stretch is very narrow due to the severe coastal erosion that most of Kerala’s coastline experiences. The southern portion of the beach is now protected by a sea wall. The Olive Ridley turtles come to nest on the sandy stretch of the beach, which has not yet been protected by a sea wall. The village is located very close by and the houses are mostly made of brick and lime walls and clay-tile roofs. Private coconut plantations occupy the space between the houses and the beach stretch.

The natural fauna in this area include jackals, several migratory and local birds and Olive Ridley turtles that come to the beach during the nesting season. Of these, the Olive Ridley turtles face a threat to survival, both through loss of eggs and habitat destruction.

This is traditionally a fishing community with the majority of the population of 135 families being Hindus (Thiyya community), with only five Muslim families. Like any other typical coastal village, this community too draws its major source of income from fishing in the sea. Apart from that they supplement their income through toddy tapping, exporting dried fish and selling coconuts from their private plantations. A few cattle (15 in number) are kept by some of the more prosperous families. These are either stall-fed or grazed on private land.

Although fishing continues to be the major occupation of the community here, the present generation of fishermen has either opted out of this traditional income source or has supplemented fishing with other sources of income. This is because of a combination of two factors: a) depleted fish resources, and b) increasing aspirations for a better living standard. The secondary occupations include mostly self- employment opportunities such as working as trained electricians, autorickshaw drivers and casual labour, and running small bakeries or other kiosks. The current People’s Plan1 has helped the women in this village to set up and run two eateries, a dry rice mill and a sweetshop within the village. Due to the recent pest attack of coconuts that has affected the coconut production in the state, toddy tapping has also been adversely affected. Dry fish export was a major cash earner for this village and had also employed around 500 fisherwomen. Due to the receding beach stretch, space is no longer available for the women to dry large quantities of fish. The number has now reduced to around 50 women. Some amount of seashells are generally collected in the rainy months of June to August. Seashell mining met local needs for lime mortar (which is extracted from seashells) and also added to the small incomes of some of the families through sale outside the village. The villagers are protecting the 4-km stretch of coastal village commons which is administered by the Revenue Department. A stretch of about half a kilometre of the northern portion of the CCA (near Kottapuzha river mouth) falls in Vadakara municipality, while the rest is in Payyoli Gram Panchayat area. This is a coastal village where traditional fishing is carried out. At a recent political function in the village, there was a suggestion to convert this area into a marine national park. However, the office of the Kozhikode (Wildlife) Division does not have any official proposal to that effect. As far as the forest department is concerned, Kolavipaalam comes under the Peruvannamuzhi Territorial Range. Locals say that the Tourism Department also plans to organise boat rides for tourists from Kunhalli Marakkar’s house in Iringal village to Velliyaangal (also referred to as the Sacrifice Rock) in Quilandi. Velliyaangal is a rocky island off the coast of Payyoli, situated 14 km into the Arabian Sea. At present, there are boat rides organized along the Kottapuzha River.

Olive Ridley turtles came to nest on Kolavipaalam beach since time immemorial. In 1992, some of the youth of the village while reading the newspaper (The Hindu) came across an article that talked about the endangered status of the Olive Ridley turtles. It suddenly dawned on them that the marine turtles, which came to nest on their beach so regularly needed protection, and this motivated them to act upon what nature had blessed them with. They formed a group called Theeram Prakriti Samrakshana Samiti with 12 members. The key persons in this effort are the present president of Theeram, Mr. Surendra Babu, and the Joint Secretary, Mr. K. Vijayan.

Initially, they had no clue as to how many days were required for turtle eggs to hatch. Hence, the first nesting season when the protection measure began, they literally spread mats over the nest and slept there to 1) protect the nest from jackals that abound the area, and, 2) to see when the hatchlings came out. They deduced that since nobody in their village knew how long it took for the turtle eggs to hatch and since they have not seen hatchlings come out during the daytime, the eggs hatched at night and they hence decided to sleep near the nests. It was this lack of knowledge that prompted these educated village youth to read various books. And that was also how they realised the importance of protecting the mangroves in their area for the benefit of the coastal ecosystem.

During the Olive Ridley nesting season of October-March, the youth of the village keep watch over the beach to check on turtles that come to nest. As soon as a turtle lays its eggs and returns to the sea, the watchful youth transfer the eggs into a sheltered hatchery that has been constructed for this purpose. A meticulous record is maintained of the number of eggs that are laid by each turtle, the dates when these were laid and so on. On hatching, the turtles are immediately released into the sea. The hatchery is part of the beach that has been fenced off. The fence is made of dried palm thatch supported on bamboo stakes and wrapped with old fishing nets. The fence is about seven feet high to provide protection from stray dogs and jackals. Inside the hatchery, the pits are marked out and paper boards are stuck into the sand that notify the day when the eggs were laid and when they are expected to hatch. A big threat to these eggs is from the jackals that inhabit the mangroves nearby. They smell the eggs as soon as they are laid and immediately prey on them. It is for this reason that the village youth transfer the eggs into the protected hatchery. Initially, the youth tried to protect the nests in their natural state, by fencing them with dried palm thatch. But, the jackals burrow through the sand and eat the eggs.

The group also met with active support from the forest department. The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) in charge in 1996, Mr. Amit Mallik, took interest in the effort. Later, in 1997, Mrs. Prakriti Srivastava, DFO, encouraged the local youth to keep watch over the beach by paying daily wages for four members during the nesting season and providing them with iron cages. However, these iron cages have not become popular with the youth. Allegedly, these cages have been responsible for the death of hatchlings that got trapped beneath these cages and could not come out. The forest department now pays six members of Theeram a wage of around Rs 2500 per month per person. This scheme is only during the nesting season from October to March.

On realising the important role of mangroves in the conservation of the coastal ecosystem, the youth have started an afforestation programme of mangroves in about 5 acres in the estuarine portion of the CCA. This began in 1998 when the forest department and other NGOs conducted nature camps and slide shows for the residents of this village. The forest department initially supplied mangrove seeds to the villagers. About Rs 15000 has been donated by the gram panchayat to buy mangrove seeds from private sources in Kannoor. Theeram members encourage and involve the local residents as well as local school children in planting these saplings along the estuarine region of their area.

The forest department has plans to set up a nature interpretation centre here. Theeram members conduct their meetings at a small building that has been constructed with financial aid from the forest department. This building also serves as a shelter where, during the nesting season, the members patrol the beach in rotation. There are also a few specimens of turtles and turtle hatchlings kept as exhibits for visitors. This building thus doubles up as an informal nature interpretation centre as well as Theeram’s office.

The youth of the village and especially Theeram members are actively involved in the conservation efforts, and other community members are aware of the conservation effort and provide passive support to it. Before the involvement of the forest department, funds for guarding the eggs were generated by donations in cash and kind from within the group and the community. Even now, the community participates in the mangrove afforestation programme. Whenever nature awareness programmes are carried out, they are keen to learn new things.

Although no scientific studies have been carried out in this area to see if these conservation measures have given results, locals have been emphatic on the positive outcome of these efforts. Some of these are as follows:

1. Increased fish catch in the areas surrounding the mangroves. Locals state that one can get a larger number of fish through simple hook and line fishing in the mangroves nearby.

2. It has also been noted that the drinking-water wells located near the mangrove area still contain sweet water, whereas the rest of the region complains of salty water in their drinking water wells. This has led the Theeram youth to believe that the mangroves, apart from various other functions of coastal protection and marine life replenishment, also help in reducing salinity ingress into the ground water table.

3. There has been an increase in the number of turtles coming to nest and the rate of hatching success of the turtle eggs is high.

4. Turtle eggs are considered to be a good curative for piles and were once sold in the local market. This is no longer seen.

5. The youth experience a sense of empowerment as a result of protecting their natural area.

6. As a result of their interaction with the forest department as well as being talked about in the local media, the youth are now treated with respect by various government officials, which is otherwise rarely seen. The villagers have taken advantage of this and have submitted a proposal to the Irrigation Department (through the good offices of the forest department) to install a drinking water pipeline for their village.

7. As a consequence of being in the news, several people have visited Kolavipaalam and met Theeram members. This has not only been an enriching experience for the visitors but also for these young men which has given them a wider perspective of what they are doing and what other villagers elsewhere have been doing.

8. Even the local governing body, the village panchayat, has recognised their efforts and has set aside funds during the year 1999-2000 for planting mangroves. This comes as part of the empowerment of village panchayats through the People’s Plan programme that is currently going on in Kerala.

9. The success of these men has, allegedly, also brought in its wake jealousy among other villagers. The fame of Kolavipaalam has been attempted to be hijacked by the neighbouring Mudiyam beach of Vallikunnu Panchayat situated about 80 km from Kolavipaalam. A news report of turtles nesting on their beach turned out to be a false one. When Theeram members read this article they made a visit to Mudiyam beach to share the information they had with the local people there. However, they found no turtle tracks. According to Theeram members, they were approached by the local villagers of Mudiyam beach for turtle eggs so that the latter could claim that nesting goes on in their beach. Being the native village of the present DFO has helped the Mudiyam residents to get World Bank funds for turtle conservation.

The community itself has faced several constraints/ obstacles that have hampered their conservation efforts. These are:

1. A financial resource crunch has limited the group’s activity to simply a protection effort. The youth have expressed their desire to study turtle biology in more detail. They hope to have a school for nature training, survey and research. The objective of this school would be to impart knowledge, and create interest and concern for the community’s natural wealth.

2. A couple of individuals whose business interests would violate the CRZ notification have not been supportive of the protection efforts. Theeram had complained about their illegal construction to the panchayat, which ensured that the construction was stopped.

3. During the nesting season, the young men have to keep long hours patrolling the beach. This means that they have a dual responsibility of earning their living during the day and keeping awake during the night (in shifts) to protect the turtles and their eggs. This responsibility has also curtailed their choice of occupation, in that only self-employment allowed this kind of flexibility in working hours. What is heartwarming though is that the Theeram members have stressed that this is not seen as a constraint, as they have chosen to undertake this responsibility themselves.

4. The Kottapuzha riverbed is leased out by the state government to rope makers for retting coconut fibres. Due to the leases granted, there is no land available for afforestation of mangroves. This has restricted Theeram members from bringing more estuarine land under mangroves. There was a traditional system of conflict resolution called kadal kodathys (literally translated as marine courts), where conflicts apart from natural resource conflicts were settled. These conflicts may be domestic in nature, such as disputes over property, marital matters, etc. Decisions arrived at these community courts were respected by the formal law and order system. Most of the disputes were resolved at this community court level and very rarely did they spill over to the formal conflict resolution systems that were in place. The kadal kodathy of Kolaavipalam was situated in Payyoli, which is stated to be no longer functioning. However, there are other community courts, which are active and playing an important role in coastal areas north of Payyoli.

1. Predation of turtle eggs by jackals, as mentioned earlier, is a considerable threat. The community has overcome this problem by transferring the eggs into the hatchery as soon as they are laid and round-the-clock patrolling of the beach during the nesting season.

2. Cutting of old mangrove trees by some of the local community members for cattle fodder and for retting of coconut fibres has contributed to the reduction in mangroves over the last few decades. Theeram members have been trying to protect the natural mangrove areas and at the same time carrying out plantation of mangrove saplings. However, since the original mangrove area (vegetation) is considered to be village commons, some of the villagers continue to cut the trees for domestic purposes, although there is a tacit understanding that the offenders will not destroy the newly planted mangroves. The offenders are under increasing pressure to desist from such activity through social disapproval.

3. The sand mining lobby, however, poses the biggest threat, not just for the Olive Ridley turtles but for the very existence of this beach. Coastal erosion of the sandy beach has reached this level in Payyoli village simply because of the massive sand mining that is being carried out in the Kottapuzha estuary. Consequently, the process of sand transfer and deposition from the estuary to the beach and vice versa through changing tides and currents has been disrupted. Due to sand mining in the estuary, the sea is no longer able to replenish the beach with more sand from the estuary, while the reverse currents continue to erode the beach. The end result is that at Kolavipaalam beach, year after year the beach stretch is getting narrower, thus leaving very little area for the sea turtles to nest. Theeram Prakriti Samrakshana Samiti has filed a case in 1999 in the High Court against the sand mining lobby that is operating here. An interim stay order was granted by the court, but the enforcing authorities seem to be helpless in putting a stop to this. One of the reasons could be that the present ruling political party supports the labour unions that are involved in sand mining. In January 2001, the sea tides destroyed the hatchery. This was a great setback to the young group’s efforts. It would not be false to say that this community initiative runs the real risk of fizzling out since the natural habitat of the Olive Ridley turtles is itself disappearing.

4. Another negative fallout of the sand mining issue is the pessimism that has crept in among some of the community members here. Although not legally permitted, seashell collection continued on the seashore as a customary right till the locals realised that this was harming their coastal ecosystem. Hence they stopped mining for a year or so. However, when sand mining in the estuary continued unabated, the residents decided to make full use of this natural resource. They have thus resumed collection of seashell fragments on the grounds that since the coast is anyway being eroded due to unabated sand mining in the estuary, they might as well make some money out of it before it finally destroys them.

5. Party politics plays a very important role in Kerala’s social structure. The high media coverage of the Theeram members has put them under tremendous political pressure of including party members in the group. So far the Theeram members have been successful in keeping them at bay. When the members had opened the membership of Theeram to young minds so as to keep the group active with fresh ideas and to make new ventures and strategies, the youth wing of a political party threatened them saying that their members must be included. This prompted them to close the membership and thus Theeram continues to consist of only the original twelve members who had joined nine years back.

6. The forest department has helped the community to obtain a favorable order from the court; yet political pressure seems to have scuttled the rest of the effort, leading to non-implementation of government/ and court orders. For the local community this initiative has led to the empowerment of their community. It could be said that this effort is unique in the entire world because it has been born purely out of concern for the natural environment and continues to be so without any notable financial benefit attached to it.

 This case study has been compiled by Roshni Kutty, Kalpavriksh, in 2001. Inputs for the case study were provided by Surendra Babu, Satish Babu, Ramesh and Vinod from Theeram Prakruti Samrakshana Samiti, Kolavipaalam.

Surendra Babu/Satish Babu/Ramesh/Vinod
Theeram Prakruti Samrakshana Samiti,
P.O. Kottakal Turtle Beach,
Kolavipaalam 673521 Kozhikode, Kerala
Email: [email protected]

Roshni Kutty
Apt. No. 5, Shri Dutta Krupa
908 Deccan Gymkhana
Pune 411004
E-mail: [email protected]

1 Decentralisation processes in Kerala resulting in devolution of power and finance to local governing bodies such as village panchayats and municipalities.

This case study was part of the Directory on Community Conserved Areas (2009), published by Kalpavriksh. The directory can be downloaded here.

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